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A Recovering Abuser Speaks

A Recovering Abuser Speaks

"There are no shortcuts to any place worth going." -Beverly Sills

July 30, 2000

My name is Bill, late 50s, a verbal abuser - seeking help. My wife and I have been married for 33 years and she recently moved out with the intention of ending our marriage. We have three boys, age 25 to 30;  the eldest is married.

I discovered this site while seeking help - and was shocked to see a letter from an woman who could have easily been my wife. It was an eye opener. I know that there are a lot of victims that are in pain from abusive relationships. So I ask that as you read on - please do not be judgmental - as the victims need help; so do the abusers. Absolutely. While I constantly point out misbehaviors since they don't work, but, since when am I  "judgmental?"

My mother raised me and my younger step brother alone. (She briefly remarried and was widowed shortly thereafter.) I was the oldest son with no father image because dad died in combat before I was born. I feel cheated out of my youth because I had to take care of the house and my brother while my mom worked. She sent us both to a Catholic school to ensure a good education. However, the nuns treated those of us from the government housing projects as inferior. Not just me - but all the students that came from the "Projects."  I do believe I am detecting a "poor me; I got a raw deal" attitude. Sulk, sulk...

I went to vocational high school that enrolled students from all areas of the city. People didn't  prejudge you by where you lived. I was the same as everybody else - just another student - who tried to be noticed. I worked harder to get better grades, played sports, got involved in clubs, class clown, etc. I worked hard to gain attention, and attention I received. A girl I was dating in my senior year remarked that she really liked me, but she wished I would be myself. My reply was, "this is who I am". Shortly thereafter she broke off our relationship. 

During this period the home front was rocky. There were confrontations between my mother and her new husband, my step father; there were confrontations with my brother. Lots of yelling and blaming... Sounds like you were feeling foul, and letting them know it. 

I was on a college scholarship which I quit after one semester join the military and get away from the bickering. I really felt that I could get some discipline and be more responsible as a person. I continued to prove how good I was and be accepted by my peers. It was like I was afraid of failure, didn't want anyone to see the real me because I never really knew who the real "me" was. Also, I wanted to make everything right. Wanted people to feel good about me and about themselves. You must have been engaged in quite a bit of reality distortion to work so hard at being liked and not knowing which end was up internally.  

I often feel that the reason for this behavior was because my mother led a very rough life in having to raise us. And speaking of us, my brother and I have never really been close. I always felt like I was better than him.  I know that is wrong but that is how I felt. Most likely because I had grandparents and he didn't. You had no sense of self and hence no sense of worth and esteem. You had to find ways to be or seem superior to others to feel OK by comparison. Narcissistic tactics provided pseudo esteem. But, seeing your emphasis on judgment, I better understand your earlier comment asking me not to be judgmental.  Ooops! Me thinks you are the judgmental one! I recall lying to my mother so I could look better than him. When I remember these times, I feel a real hurt and pain within me - because he has had a rough life - was almost killed twice while driving drunk. Today he is a recovering alcoholic and my mom said he even quit smoking. If I'm correct, we haven't talked but maybe three times in the last 5 years. He lives about far away but the distance between us is greater. I think the 3 of you led rough lives. Your mom apparently did not know how to, or was too busy or tired from working to affirm you as individuals... (which tells me that her childhood had been rough too).

I never really had a close friend, someone that I can call on the phone to share my feelings or thoughts with, someone to go get a beer with, etc. It is like there is a void there. I'm sorry; so sad... On the other hand our three sons still have close bonds with friends from grade school and high school. Good! That does brighten my heart! Yeah!

In the military I continued to excel, not realizing that my baggage was getting heavier. During a reassignment, I met my wife. I was overbearing. If the truth be known, she probably would say that I literally forced myself upon her. She was good looking, pleasant, had a wonderful smile, sincere, caring, etc.; everything that I wanted in a soul mate. After about a year we married and had a good couple of years. Probably because in some way she dashed your hopes; couldn't keep you feeling good... It is so clear in your case how you had to expect to derive your self esteem from her.

When my enlistment was up, I wanted to return to my home town and get my college degree. I knew relocating was going to be difficult, but I never understood just how difficult it would be for her to leave her mother. Empathy is better late than never. It takes a special kind of guy to own up to all this stuff.  This was the beginning of a rough road. 

When we settled into our new home, I got involved with outside interests (Junior Achievement, softball, etc.). I did not realize that she might be lost in a strange new environment. Because doing this stuff was food for a hungry soul. You knew no other way to feel OK, and you were too internally starved to have the capacity to worry about another person. I imagine your mom was as preoccupied with her survival in some way, and was emotionally unavailable to you and your brother as you became towards your wife. It was like "I'm happy therefore she must be happy. " How wrong could I be not to see the light? You couldn't! No excuses for hurting another person, but you did not do this on purpose. It is all you knew; you had no ability to look beyond your own desperate needs. 

I became increasingly involved with sports, work, and college at night. My wife stayed home with our new baby while I was out doing my thing. She discovered crafts; but rather than let her have her thing, I had to get involved and take charge. It was during this time that my abusive behavior really started to bloom. The control... You were miserable and didn't know how to fix it; yet, now you had to share the emotional supplies she gave with your son. Ouchhh! It's no wonder you tried to possess her; own her; run her. You desperately thought you needed what she supplied. It was as if I were louder than her, therefore I was "right." Also, as my older son would later tell me, I was good at mind games. This pattern continued over the years - very unhealthy in hindsight. Yes. Very twisted. You paid absolutely no mind to your personal integrity in favor of the quick ego fix of winning, getting over, whatever. I have often wondered why I didn't see this sooner. You didn't know what to look for. You had no peripheral vision, nor were you open to relaxing your control over reality to see anything other than what you wanted to see. This was survival for you; it was not fun. This is exactly the type of stuff I mean when I refer to parents hurting their children simply because they are doing the very best they can. Shortly thereafter she had her first of three affairs. So she compromised her integrity too. Her affairs brought her some measure of pseudo comfort. That was the best she could do. Nobody's scoring Brownie points in this marriage.

This first affair was with a neighbor, my friend. She asked me to go with her for counseling but "I let her know" that we were a couple of really intelligent people, capable of mending our own fences. Too terrifying for you, although I doubt you allowed yourself to feel "scared." Yet, internally, there was a dim awareness that counseling meant loss of control. Then what? You would certainly "die." We won't even discuss the shame and self-contempt any Mr. Judgmental would experience...  (Bill can fix anything. It was almost like, "If I can't fix it, it ain't broke". So young and so foolish.) The irony in this - I made her feel like the dummy when truly I was the fool. Yes, and, I'm glad you see this. But it is also important that you see the horrific emotional position you were in. Maintaining control was a life and death struggle for the survival of all you knew. Embrace your own plight - as well as your wife's. 

I am not trying to excuse you by focusing on your pain, nor am I minimizing your wife's hurt. No doubt about it, you hurt your wife (Or, more accurately, she, in her plight, allowed you to hurt her because she, like yourself, knew no better.) Nevertheless, this is about your recover, and it is

Learn to:

bulletEmpathize with the self. 
bulletDo this without falling into the common traps of self-contempt and self-pity, but with tolerance and understanding.  (Find yourself in a trap? Kick yourself out. Now!)
bulletDo this without acting out your pain, but by tolerating the inevitable hurt and other difficult thoughts and feelings that will well up.
bulletAct calmly and only with forethought.
bulletRecognize that any action you take is a choice you made. 
bulletChoose wisely among options available to you that approach your goal.
bulletRemember that the wisest choices generally do not provide instant relief. The wisest choices enhance your integrity, as opposed to soothe your ego. Think: Take the High Road, even if it hurts. It's about Ego Vs. Self.

A short time later we purchased a new home. I didn't add to my already full plate because there was plenty to do around the house. Our second son was born during this period.  I recall how I started to clamp down on my oldest son. I curtailed his freedom, failed to let him grow and be his own person. I had to put my mark on everything, and, in truth, ended up with less by trying to control him. Yes. My relationship would be rough from this point on with him. Basically I was too damn strict, and also I was demeaning to him.

Today I really worry about how he treats his children and the baggage that I loaded him up with. He really works at being a good father and from the bottom of my heart I thank God for his intervention, for my son is a better man than I am. :) I hope you'll email him this url..

Things were rough for the family when I was laid off on several occasions. I'll bet you were truly a delight to be around at those times! I really have trouble recalling the first four to five years in the house. Could it be that I got my way? I'm not really sure, but I suspect that as the truth. My guess is you probably got your ego's way, which wears thin fast. Think of having a bowl of shredded cardboard with water for breakfast. No taste, no nourishment, but you're full... 

I think it was in the sixth year that my wife started working at the local "Y".  And I added more interests to my already loaded schedule, while continuing to do all the other things that I was doing. Constant activity helps keep internal feelings (messages from the self) squashed. My behavior didn't improve any. To win my battles I would drag out old scars and throw them at her. I brought up her past affair, how I took her to see her family every Christmas, etc. Manipulative and guilt inducing stuff. Taking her back home for the Holidays was something that I really enjoyed. Yet, I found a way to use it against her. Why, to this day, I don't know.  Unless you enjoyed her pain or your power gave you a thrill, my guess is that you just didn't know what else to do with your own internal frustration. You know, "Somebody's got to pay". 

Somewhere along the way as you read this you must wonder, "Did he really love her?" No, I didn't wonder. But, I think we need to define "love." I'm sure she was the center of your Universe; the most important person in the whole wide world. But, how could you love her when you didn't have a clue about love. I think you "loved" her as much as you could. I think, in  your recovery, you love her more and more each day. In my mind there was no doubt then or now that I really do love her. But what was bad was my abusive behavior and my ability to control her actions and deeds. Some months later my wife entered into the second affair. His wife informed me. It really took me by surprise. As did the first affair. Yes. It's called "distortion." You "controlled" reality by manufacturing it.

Again the subject was brought up about getting professional help. And again I just "KNEW" that we could work it out. We agreed to work hard at making ours a better marriage. For the little that we knew of our baggage, I really felt that we were both trying to make it go. I'm sure you were.

The affair led to a pregnancy and an abortion. I knew this was painful for her, and she did it out of her love for me. We really wanted it to work out. We had some tranquility, and our third son was born. I graduated, got several promotions (control at work is good for the career) Often, yes!,  got very competitive with sports,  etc.  I never suspect that most of my interests had evolved into compulsive behavioral patterns (have to have more, have to have the biggest, have to have the most expensive, etc.).  Was this because I was denied these things in my youth? Perhaps in part.  Was I that much of a controller that I had to have everything? I really don't know. From the time you were a child, you would beg, borrow, and steal to "look good" and gain favor. Other's admiration and your own assessment that you beat the competition was your substitute for self-worth.

My wife's career advanced also. She was doing great until an abusive new director came onto the scene. He managed to get about 6 to 7 people to quit before my wife decided that she to had had enough.

Soon, my ugly dragon started to rear its head again. Notice that you describe yourself as though you are cut off from that aspect of yourself. You will need to integrate your torturous self-loathing. Once tame, it is a necessary part of the whole and, believe it or not, houses many of your special talents. My yelling  was greater than ever. Yes. Abuse tends to worsen over time. I think that is a function of your increasing inner emptiness and despair, along with the dawning realization that it ain't gettin' no better. I berated my wife and kids. They must have had nightmares about me. Yet, I couldn't understand what I was really doing. I wanted to be everyone's buddy. Yes. To outsiders, you were good and kind; got you validated. I was on top of the world.  

My rage, I'm sure, was the impetus for my wife's third affair. I had taken my son to an event. We got home early. I spotted her car parked outside a male acquaintance's home.  Dropping my son off, I ran back to catch them in the act. I literally dragged her home. That's when she told me then she didn't want me. But I had to demonstrate my control. I called the local priest and asked if we could come over to talk about a problem. My motive - the church requires you to be man and wife forever, she can't deny the church. I remember the priest saying to me, "Bill, she doesn't want to be with you any more."

We did seek counseling. Yes. You agreed to counseling because you knew you had few options. The game no longer worked; she wanted out. For the first time I learned what control meant, and I  worked hard to end it. Excellent! My controlling was so bad that I really tried to control the therapist, really I did. That's normal. It was later in our therapy that I learned that my wife was an abused by her mother. I'm not surprised. Most, not all, but most victims received some very intensive early training. Accommodate abuse was all she knew. That was really a shock to me. I still remember that look on her face when she came home from therapy with tears in her eyes and she
told me what happened.  

This was one time that I honestly could feel her pain. I felt compassion for her and wanted to hold her in my arms forever to let her know she was now safe. I remember crying because I too had abused her. I've never physically abused my wife, but I know the emotional damage I caused by yelling and screaming at the top of my lungs. And I do have a big and loud mouth. And a loving heart, once you allow it.

We had separated for a short time. We both were truly sorry for the hurt and pain we generated against each other.  I remember how happy I was and how dedicated and determined my soul was to be a better person for my family. I accepted a promotion that meant relocation, but instead I commuted approximately 150 miles to and from work every day so that we didn't have to uproot everyone. Had you more internal stuff, you would have probably passed on the promotion, not needing success to reinforce your self esteem..

For a while again things were great. I raised a little hell with all on occasion but overall it wasn't to bad. Bought a new house - really a beautiful place. On the day of the big move I got into a physical altercation with my oldest son. Pushed him into the front door to the point that the glass shattered. What caused me to do that? Really I don't know. It haunts me today that I acted this way. Was I jealous of my son? Probably in part... Was it my lack of a father figure? Damn, I really want to know. He is very successful today and a damn hard worker. Very proud of him. Sometimes I wonder why he hasn't given me a real swift kick in the butt. Good kid.

Events again went well for a few years. On occasion I lost it. Like the time 
I had surgery and she was really trying to care for me. I called it "mothering."
Today I recognize she loved me and felt my need for assistance. And what did I do? Drove her away.

A few years ago I had an affair that lasted until recently. Contact wasn't frequent, but, once is too much. A couple years later she moved away with her family. Still, we continued to meet and spoke on the phone occasionally. My wife caught us a couple of times and excused my indiscretion because I promised it was over. It was like I wanted to be caught. Perhaps you wanted your wife to set limits? To stand up to you?

Verbal attacks became more frequent, although not as loud. We really knew how to push the buttons. We went to therapy again with a new therapist who knew how bad my wife was suffering. She had spent a week in the hospital getting professional help. In therapy, she got the bulk of attention, and rightfully so. I remember being asked why I had the affair, and could not come up with an answer. I wanted my wife to give me what I wasn't giving her. Men are such strange creatures. Not all, my dear.

Well, by now you know the routine. Everything fine for a while - then I renewed the affair. The irony is that this woman's husband is a bigger verbal abuser than I am! My wife commented that my partner in crime was just like her; I denied it. But truthfully she was right. During this time, my wife lost her job and both her parents passed away. Ohhh... She watched her mom die slowly of a horrible, rare illness. She has had a difficult time.

Our relationship fell apart last spring. My wife almost left, but at the last minute, changed her mind.  I had ended my affair and was looking for a therapist. I wanted to  turn my life around and salvage my marriage.

But, she moved out. In my heart and mind I know how much pain she went through. I have I have not asked her to come back, although I miss her deeply. I will not ask her to consider coming back until I really know that I'm in control of my life - and no one else's. Good for you! This is taking the high road.

 Don't know where she lives and don't want to know (she needs her space). We
have gone out for supper a few times and they have been good experiences (she agrees). We talk once or twice a day on the phone. Sometimes I start to get heavy with the emotions but I'm learning to back off. Good. You have to learn to tolerate your pain.  Neither one of us is sleeping but I guess that goes with the territory. Yep.

Several other items need to be brought out:

bulletFirst, she has asked me more times than I can possibly remember, why I was mad. That always upset me because I felt that I wasn't mad. Strictly speaking, you weren't. Just a general sense of emptiness and dissatisfaction. However, I'm starting to believe that I've been hiding behind something. Not dealing with something. There is something there; I can feel it. Yes. YOU are in there. The self who wants to deal with reality; the self who is whole.
bullet Second, I've accused her of over mothering everyone. Perhaps I was jealousy that she had so much love to give and I don't know how to give love. I buy that. Also, at some level, I bet you resented her for giving her love to others - when you were so needy! This scares me. Why? Because it might be the same reason that I had trouble with my oldest son. He really loved me and wanted to be close and I pushed him away. Yes. You would push anyone you didn't have to chase away, almost wanting them to break through your pushing away, but not letting them.
bullet Third, I've developed compulsive habits. First it was sports, then woodworking, computer, and now with die cast. Need to get to the root cause of these compulsive behaviors. Comfort. They distract you from having to deal with the discomfort in your life and they provide pseudo esteem. Force yourself to STOP compulsing. See what comes up for you. Do nothing; simply tolerate the feelings and listen to their message.
bullet Fourth, I used to have a lot of drive. I could push myself hard to do anything I wanted. Over the last few years I have really slacked off and gained about 25 pounds. Part of that was due to bad health, several knee operations over the last seven years. Bottom line - I'm dragging.  Good. Your ego is getting tired of fighting life...
bullet Another item, I would throw her one of my hooks when I was nasty. I told her she needed the strong silent type and not me. Just something else to get under her skin. What I was probably trying to say was "I wish the hell I could shut my damn mouth and not be abusive". Yes. Add to that, "How can you possibly love me? I sure don't."

Where is she? Sometimes she loves me; other times she doesn't wants nothing to do with me. She has taken her needed space. She has talked about ending our marriage. If she goes this way I told her I would NOT create any problems because I understand why. Good! I requested she consider giving it a little time (at least six months). I want to work on improving myself. She doesn't think I can change, but I used the example of a recovering alcoholic. He is still an alcoholic but he has learned how to deal with his illness. I'm highly motivated to change. Her response was, "I don't want to live my life that way anymore". I will one-up you. Not only can you "deal with" your illness, you can change it;  you can dump it. You can RECOVER! (As opposed to permanent "in recovery.")

Right now I'm between denial and acceptance. I have no anger for her leaving.
I do feel the pain I've inflicted on my family; I had considered suicide and presently Boy, will that one mess with your integrity! I'm on an antidepressant. Good. I found a good book that has helped me a little "Codependent No More"  by Melody Beattie. Excellent book! It focuses on giving up control and caring for yourself. I found this site and told my wife about it. Good! Maybe she'll comment... That was really hard because there are enough reasons here for her to end our relationship. And many not to. On the other hand there is good information to support her and her actions and provide her with the strength to do what she feels she has to. Yes. She must do that for her own recovery, which she is doing a good job with - judging by how far you have come! Had she not done her part, you would likely still be hurting everyone.

What am I looking for? The path for recovery. Good. Take a look at The Road Less Traveled and Adult Children: The Secrets of Dysfunctional Families  and/ or some of the other spirituality and codependency books on the bookshelf or elsewhere.
Give up control. You give up control more and more as you experience your world to be safer and safer. Control is about preparing the self for the other shoe to drop (you have to be ready!). Be a loving caring individual who respects the feelings of others. An individual who knows his own limitations. A person who likes himself. An individual capable of giving his wife the love and respect that she so richly deserves. And if she chooses to end our the relationship, the strength to understand and accept what I can't control. Excellent goals.

Sorry this so long but the pain that we are both feeling is immense. Thank
you for taking time to read this.   William  Thank you for writing.

You are on track Bill. Stay there and be patient. Each time you think you "got it," you did. You got a part of it. You will "get it" over and over again, each layer of understanding more subtle than the last.

Thank you for opening yourself up to us and giving the reader the opportunity to understand you and your anger.  This one took courage.

My parting comments:

Be as mindful of yourself as you possibly can. Tolerate discomfort; do nothing but simply notice it and listen to what it's trying to tell you. Never, ever act your discomfort out. Systematically dump each and every quick fix in your life until you are no longer using them to soothe your internal pain. Take responsibility; you have free will. Never, ever compromise your integrity again. You owe this to yourself. You owe this to your Maker. Everybody else in your life benefits.

May God bless you and yours; I'm with you all the way, Dr. Irene

I want to read the posts.

Or, see Bill's Update, September, 2000



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